From Bogra we drove to Mymensingh. (See map of previous blog.) We met with the leader of Pobitra, an organization we had previously visited. Pobitra works with 20 women (former sex workers) for a year in helping them learn life skills and trade skills. We are not allowed to show faces so only have photos of the “teachers.” Sometime I hope we are there to see the women at work. In the evening we took a walk along the river front in Mymensingh—the Brahmaputra River. There were many people socializing and relaxing and/or taking boat trips along the river.
The following day we drove to Baromari Catholic church. Again we were welcomed by singing, dancing, and beautiful flowers. MCC has partnered with this church for many years, especially through the Global Family program. We visited the school and Ron had fun at the blackboard in their math class. We also visited the girls’ dorm and talked with them briefly.
MCC is beginning a new five-year project in this area which will focus on food security and health and peace education. We drove to one of the communities where a women’s group is just being formed. They gave us a grand welcome with singing accompanied by various musical instruments and flowers. The group told us how they are organized, what they hope they learn, and some of their concerns. After the formal meeting, Sally Jo asked to see the harmonium. This instrument is often used here in Bangladesh but we have never had a chance to see it up close. That led to the women singing more traditional songs and dancing. (You may have seen the Facebook post of Sally Jo dancing. )
The women also showed us some of their water pumps. There is a problem with water in this area because of a rock bed. The water pipes need to be drilled to about 50 metres or more because shallow pipes can bring up water which contains arsenic. They also showed us a homestead where elephants have come and damaged their crops. At this point we were only 1 or 2 km from the India border and elephants don’t seem to understand international boundaries! We missed taking a photo of the “Watch out for elephants” sign!
We drove back to the Catholic Mission for a hike and lunch. We were accompanied the whole day with four armed policemen for security. We didn’t ask for the protection, but it is their job to make sure foreigners are safe.
At the mission the Catholic Sister said to follow her. She didn’t really say where we were going or what we were doing. We ended up hiking up a hill following the fourteen “Stations of the Cross.” (It was a good hike—more exercise than we have had in the last three months! It also was extremely hot and humid.) At the end of the hike we saw the huge statue of St. Mary which was created by a Muslim artist. At the end of October, about 10,000 people come to pray and celebrate in this area.
The following day in Mymensingh we visited Sacred Mark Enterprise (SME) which is a business begun by MCC but now is a private company. They make seven varieties of soap and various recycled sari products. (We had visited them on an earlier trip but at that time were unable to see the women at work.) The owner was part of MCC for 20 years and helped to develop the soap. The women are mostly former sex workers who have previously spent a year with Probitra. At first she was worried about taking on the leadership because of the harassment of employing these women. However, she was encouraged by family, friends, and MCC and is now “family and counselor” to the producers. She has 33 fulltime workers and about 50 part-time.
We also visited Shanti Mitra “Friends of Peace.” This organization began in 2007 and is sponsored by MCC and the Taize Brothers. They work mainly with young people. (The group of young people meeting when we were there were talking about social media.) The organization does a lot with interfaith dialogue and peace education through creative art, drama, music. It is important to work with young people but it is also important to work with the religious leaders who have great influence over the youth. Shanti Mitra tries to invite these leaders to meetings and dialogues. (We had also visited here before but each time we learn more.)
It was fun to introduce our International Program Director to some of the projects here in Bangladesh. This was his first trip to the country. We think he also was inspired – just as we are every time we visit projects – at what MCC has done, is doing, and hopes to do. But we also all learn of the challenges.